Thursday, June 22, 2006

John Edwards on Poverty

Bob Hebert's op-ed (paid sub. req.) in today's NY Times focuses on former Senator (and VP candidate) John Edward's speech at the national press club. The speech is today, but Hebert obtained a copy of Edward's draft, which he apparently wrote himself.

Edwards (as he did in the 2002 campaign) is focusing his unofficial presidential campaign on a new war on poverty. He currently works as the director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the UNC-Chapel Hill. He is arguing for new measures meant to cut the number of Americans in poverty by 1/3 over the next ten years, focusing on increasing the minimum wage and making it easier for workers to unionize. These are classic Democratic ideals and policies. However, Edwards is also advocating revamping the nation's housing programs by introducing voucher programs, calling on Republicans to join him:
"If conservatives really believed in markets," he says, "they'd join us in a more radical and more sensible solution: creating one million more housing vouchers for working families over the next five years. Done right, vouchers can enable people to vote with their feet to demand safe communities with good schools."
Voucher systems for schools have been the subject of a lot of debate, but most economists would likely agree that giving people the ability to "vote with their feet" in the private market is likely to be more effective that government-run housing projects.

It's not that clear-cut, since subsidizing housing with vouchers is going to (a) raise housing prices even for those without vouchers and (b) distort spending/savings incentives, but this seems to be something to think about. And certainly, moving the political debate in the country away from arguing about who's more patriotic and to something that may actual mean something is something we should all be behind.


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